Tiffani Thiessen has been acting for over twenty-five years and now, thanks to USA, she has found a role that resonates with her on a personal level. She plays Elizabeth Burke, wife of FBI Agent Peter Burke on White Collar [Fridays, 10/9C] and graciously chatted with a group of bloggers/journalists about her part in the series.
Taking part were: Jamie Steinberg [Starry Constellation], Joshua Maloni [Niagara Frontier Magazine], Erin Stranyak [Exclusivemagazine.com], Jim Halterman [Jimhalterman.com], Sarah Fulghum [Totallyher.com], Alix Sternberg [Thetvchick.com], Stefan blitz [Forcesofgeek.com], Kiko Martinez [Extra Chicago], Courtney Schinke [Raked Reviews blog], Amy Steele [Entertainment Realm], Concepcion Allen [Blast Magazine], Lena Lamoray [Lenalamoray.com], Latoria Ferguson [Blog without an Original title], and Damon Caparosso [BSC Review].
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Tiffani Thiessen: Ever since I read the script, which has been a little over a year ago now, I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the characters. I fell in love with the show, and more and more, when the cast was brought together, the more excitement I had for the show and wanting to be a part of it. This is really the first time I feel like in my whole entire career which has been over 25, 26 years of doing this that I finally feel like I’m kind of playing a role a little closer to home for me, which is kind of exciting.
Was there instant chemistry when everyone began working together? I know you’re very close working together with Tim and Matt as well.
Thiessen: We are, from day one. I of course had met Tim through the testing process of us being put on screen and doing our scenes together, and we had chemistry from day one. I absolutely adore that man and then met Matt, actually, after we had already started shooting the pilot. We actually were on the same flight going to New York to shoot the pilot last year.
Then Willie Garson I actually had known just being in the business for so long. We had met prior, and I’ve always really enjoyed him and loved him, so I was really excited to know that it was actually really kind of a special cast that we were putting together. I couldn’t be more thrilled with everybody I’m working with. It’s really a nice group of people. Being away from home, it makes it so much nicer when you actually like the people you’re working with.
It feels like there’s more to your character than what we’ve seen. I almost feel like maybe she’s hiding something.
Thiessen: Oh gosh, I’m so curious to know what you think I’m hiding.
What sort of background can we expect as we move along?
Thiessen: I think you’ll start to see background on all of our characters, especially the guys. Surely, this show is definitely the guys’ show. It’s Matt and Tim’s show, and Willie and I definitely play more of a supporting role, but you will definitely see much more of me in the further episodes as you’re coming along. Last week or two weeks ago you saw a little bit more of what I really do for a living and kind of my career, which is really nice to kind of see because we really never saw that in the pilot, and it was something that we kind of came up with actually after we shot the pilot.
They’re definitely putting more of what I do outside of my relationship with Tim into the show a little bit, and that’ll continue on even, hopefully, in seasons from here on out, which hopefully there’ll be five to ten years of White Collar. In general, I can’t give you exact specifics, ideas of what’s going to be happening, but I can promise you you’ll see a lot more of her.
What about any sort of action scenes. Do you get involved in any of the sort of cops and robbers element of it?
Thiessen: I don’t think so. It’s really not part of my character and my storyline in this show. Again, I’m definitely a supporting role, especially being that I’m the wife of Tim’s character, but you will see a lot of a triangle in a sense of what I can do and help with Matt’s character as well, especially, I think, when it involves the storyline of Kate. You’ll see that a lot as well.
I’m sure I’m the millionth person to tell you this, but it never gets old. I want to say congratulations on your pregnancy.
Thiessen: Thank you so much. We are absolutely thrilled.
Now, as a first-time mother, how do you think that it will play out balancing your roles and responsibilities of motherhood and your part on White Collar?
Thiessen: You know, that’s a very good question in the sense that I really don’t know being that I am a first-time mom, so it’ll be a very different kind of thing for me being that I’ll be working and being a mother at the same time. There are millions of people who do it. My mom did it herself, so I know I can handle it, but it’ll be a very new experience, so it’s hard to say what is going to be like. It’ll be all brand new for me.
The onscreen relationship between you and Tim’s character, Peter, seems to be loving, but also a bit strained by his professional commitments. Now, with the charming and charismatic Neal Caffrey entering the picture, how do you think this partnership will affect Elizabeth and Peter’s marriage as the show develops?
Thiessen: I don’t know if I would actually use the word strained. I think in every marriage there’s always the challenge of making time and making priorities in their relationship when people have careers, and what you will start to see more and more is my career, being that it takes up a lot of my time as well. I think it’s going to give a lot of, not so much looking into Peter’s career and how it affects our marriage. There’s also my side of it as well.
I think she is very understanding to that. She’s been living with it for so long and knows what he does for a living, and she knows what she married. I don’t think there’s a strain to it. I think there’s a challenge. I think probably the challenge is the word I could use for that. I think what Neal brings into it is that I think my husband on the show is very kind of black and white in the way he thinks, and I think Neal is definitely much more colorful, and I think he will definitely teach my husband a little more of the colorful side of being romantic and all those things that you do need in a marriage as well.
I know you did a short film a couple years ago that you directed, and I wanted to know is that something you still want to be doing? Is there a chance maybe you could direct an episode of White Collar?
Thiessen: I do. You’re so sweet. Yes, they definitely know directing is something that’s in my thinking of wanting to do more and more, and it all really just depends on time and all that. I wanted to make sure that when we started the show my focus was on my character and what I’m doing as an actress. Now with my new role coming as a mother, it’s going to be a little more challenging, but it’s definitely something I want to do more of, so yes.
You’ve been in the business for a long time since you were very young. If you weren’t in the entertainment business, what else would you want to be doing?
Thiessen: It’s so funny. Last year when we did the pilot, we really didn’t know what Elizabeth’s character was going to do for a living. They had some ideas, and they kind of changed it, and then I had come to Jeff Eastin, our creator of the show and said, you know, it’s funny. I think it could work, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do if I wasn’t an actor. I’d always wanted to be an event planner, and I think it could work really well for Elizabeth’s character being that she’s in New York City. We could really show the city in a different light, and they loved it. I have to say funny enough, that was my idea, and that’s exactly what I would do if I wasn’t an actor.
What would you say to those that haven’t seen White Collar yet to convince them to watch?
Thiessen: Oh gosh, well, besides having really cute guys on the show, it’s definitely the type of TV and movies that I like to see. I’m a huge fan of The Thomas Crown Affair and those kinds of feels of movies and shows and 48 Hours, which is so interesting, Catch Me If You Can, things like that. If people are really into those kinds of movies and those kind of story-telling, they have to watch this show. It is so absolutely entertaining. The characters are so rich and so fun to watch and follow.
As well as you see New York City in a completely different way. It’s shot in a beautiful way. It’s interesting, a lot of shows that are shot in New York City can be a little more dark and gray, and this show really, I think, kind of captures New York City in a really beautiful light, and it’s nice.
Switching gears a little, I read that your husband is from Houston, Texas.
Thiessen: That is correct.
I am actually calling you from Houston, Texas.
Thiessen: I love Houston. Houstonians are some of my favorite people.
That’s great to hear because I was going to ask you if he still has some of that Texas pride and if it’s rubbed off on you, which apparently it has.
Thiessen: He seems to think that we’re definitely having a half-Texan, of course, and we visit Houston quite often because of my in-laws who I really, truly have the best in-laws in the whole entire world, and I know that has a lot to do with the fact that they’re Texans. He definitely has Texas pride. Like I said, we go back quite often, and I feel Texas is definitely my second state.
You’ve played a wide variety of characters. How do you think these roles have prepared you to play Elizabeth Burke?
Thiessen: It’s funny. I think I’ve made this statement before a few times, but it is really true is that this is the first character in over 25 years of me doing this that I actually feel like it’s the closest to me that I’ve played in all the different shows and movies that I’ve done in my career. I think it’s more about myself and my own experience that I can bring to Elizabeth. She has this really solid wonderful marriage. I feel like I have that with my own husband. She’s career-driven, which I feel like I am. It’s all those things that you put towards a character like her that I feel that are definitely very much me.
[The] USA Network has some big hits out there right now. How does it feel to be a part of the network?
Thiessen: Absolutely exciting. I tell them this all the time that I feel blessed to be on such an amazing network. This is the first time I’ve ever done a cable show, and I’m utterly thrilled and over-the-moon with the fact that they’re so supportive and they’re so behind their shows, and they really do give such a great chance of us really trying to make it. It’s nice. It’s nice to feel like we’re really wanted in a sense and really have a lot of passion behind us. It’s a lovely, lovely feeling.
You mentioned that Elizabeth is the closest to your personality. Do you know if your pregnancy will be incorporated into the show?
Thiessen: I don’t know. That’s actually going to be up to the writers and the executive producers and USA and Fox and everybody involved. I’m going to be still somewhat not too pregnant along when we’re finally coming to the end of the season. We really don’t have too much more left, so it’s really up to them if they want to. I’m open to whatever they feel. We tried to time it to a certain degree so I wouldn’t show too, too much.
We’ve also grown up watching you as you’ve grown up in front of the camera. What’re the challenges that you have if any in creating a new character knowing that you have a career behind you?
Thiessen: Yes, well, it’s bittersweet at times. There’s good and bad. There are people who of course followed my career and who have loved the shows that I’ve done in the past and are always up to seeing something new of myself or any of my past co-stars, which is really wonderful. Then there’s always people who have opinions, and of course, that’s how the world works, and that’s A-OK.
Some people were really open and loving to the fact that I’m actually playing a role that’s quite different than what I’ve played in the past. Like I said, it’s definitely much more close to home for me, this character, but some people had a hard time with it. Some people didn’t believe the relationship between Tim and I, which is so funny to me because we had chemistry from day one, but that’s how the entertainment business works. That’s how people are, and that’s okay. Everybody has their opinions.
We’ve seen on the show that Neal has escaped from prison for love. What’s the most romantic thing a guy’s ever done for you, and then maybe what is the cheesiest thing a guy’s ever…
Thiessen: Oh, gosh. Well, my husband himself is definitely romantic. I mean, he is romantic almost every day whether it’s leaving me cute little notes somewhere throughout the house or the way he proposed to just the day we got married. He was amazing and romantic in everything he did, so I’m blessed to have a husband like that. The cheesiest, God, that would be really hard. I wouldn’t want to out anybody because I feel like anybody who wants to put themselves and their heart out there is a wonderful thing, and we shouldn’t put them down for it, right?
Nobody’s ever recreated a Caribbean vacation on the rooftop for you before?
Thiessen: No, they have not. No, that would be a first.
You’ve been on a few shows that have been a little short lived in your career. What makes White Collar something you think can surpass a couple of seasons?
Thiessen: Well, I think a few reasons. People are already enjoying it. We’ve had a lot of great feedback and a lot of great critics really loving the characters and the storylines and the show and us on it, which is exciting, the fact that we are on a network like USA. They are so behind us, and they really put us out there, and it’s nice to have the passion behind us because I think that helps a lot. These network shows, sometimes they don’t give it a chance, and it’s nice to know that we have somebody who’s really given us a chance. I think we, knock on wood, I think you’re going to see us for awhile.
On television, there tends to be a fine line between that perfect supportive spouse that’s believable and the one that is so over the top that you’re like, no one in this world exists quite like this, and you are actually doing a wonderful job being that supportive spouse that we definitely believe. How do you strike that balance, and how do you plan to keep it going?
Thiessen: Thank you so much first of all. That’s very sweet of you to say. That means a lot to me because I really try, and Tim and I both have long talks about this as well as our creator, Jeff, that we really wanted this to be a relationship that does work on TV, not one that has a lot of problems, not one that you constantly see drama, which you see a lot on TV.
Funny enough, Tim and I come from marriages that work, that really do work like that, so I think we really take it from just our own experiences. Tim’s been married for quite some time to a wonderful woman and has two great kids. My husband and I have this wonderful relationship and humor has a lot to do with it, communication, all those things I feel that are so, so important. I take those just being from my parents who’ve been married for over 45 years. My grandparents were married for 67 years. It’s important, so I feel like I take from my own life and really try to bring what I can to the relationship and the characters.
Have you had a favorite moment so far, either one that’s coming up that we can keep an eye out for or one that’s already been aired?
Thiessen: Wow, that’s hard. I think there are a couple episodes coming up that I’m definitely a little heavier in, which is kind of nice to really get to explore my character a little bit, but each episode is so exciting and so fun, and it’s such a ride that it’s hard for me to pick out one more than the other or one little bit more than the other. That’s a hard choice. I have to think about that a little longer, and I know we wouldn’t have time.
What is it like to work on such a male-dominated cast?
Thiessen: It’s great, actually. It’s not my first time, so I feel like I’m definitely, I have the experience. With past shows, I did a show called Fastlane that was literally me and two guys. It’s funny. I don’t know why, but I tend to gravitate to shows that have a lot of male co-stars. I grew up with two brothers, so I guess it’s just normal for me to be around guys. It’s fun. It’s where I feel comfortable, I have to say.
Then, being over 30 in Hollywood—
Thiessen: You can say it, over 35.
I just turned 40, so I still—
Thiessen: That’s exciting. I love it.
What kind of pressures do you think that women or you, yourself, still face as far as looks and beauty pressures and things like that?
Thiessen: You’re right. It’s all there. It will never go away. I don’t think our business and the entertainment business in general will ever just be okay with how people are. I think we’re in a business that critiques everything we do, and you kind of just take it with a grain of salt. I look at my grandmother, and I think she’s aged beautifully, so I hope that I could be a smidgen of how she’s aged.
There’s nothing you can do. All you can do is take of yourself and do the things that make you feel good and make you healthy and age appropriately, but there’s always going to be people out there are going to say something, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Like I said, you have to take it with a grain of salt.
You mentioned that you had some influence on the career of your character. That being said, are you going to be able to also provide future input into shaping and developing her as well? I know that the producers and writers have the job of carrying that out, but would you have a chance to put some input into that?
Thiessen: It’s interesting. We are very lucky to be on a show (and that’s all of us across the board) that our executive producers and writers are very open to anything we have to say, which is so nice because not a lot of shows are like that. They believe a collaboration always works best, and not that we are there writing the show, nor is that what we’re supposed to be doing, but they’re always very open to any time we have a question or concern or have an idea, they’re always open. It’s nice to be able to get on the phone or sit down with them and talk with them about it, and we all feel that way, which is really great.
Your character is one of the, obviously, highlights of this show. Will we have, I know you said that she won’t necessarily be doing the action.
Thiessen: No, I don’t see that unless something changes, but who knows. I don’t see it, though.
Will we see maybe a centered episode around her, perhaps, maybe?
Thiessen: I don’t know. That’s a question that really I can’t answer. Again, I say the show really is Matt and Tim. It’s their show, and it was from day one. I knew that coming in. I came in knowing that this role was supportive, which I was completely happy with.
It’s funny. I’ve been doing this for so long that I was actually okay not having to work every day and having the weight of a new show on my shoulders. As well as I really just fell in love with this character, and I fell in love with the cast that they started to put together, but you’ll see definitely, there’s an episode coming up that I’m much more heavy in, and you’ll see that every now and then that I’ll be a little heavier in certain episodes. It’s not something you’re going to see every week because, again, it’s not my show. I’m a supportive role on the show.
Did you ever think that your event planning skills would be useful to the FBI, and when will they bring you in as an official paid consultant?
Thiessen: I know, really. I don’t know. That’s a good question. That could actually be kind of funny. No, it was actually when we shot that episode, it was an episode we shot a little later, and they really enjoyed the episode so much, they pulled it up and made it a little closer to the beginning of the show, which is great. It was really fun to do, and it was really fun to work more with Matt and the guys in general, which was great. Again, like I had mentioned, you’ll see certain episodes that I might be a little heavier in, but the event planning thing is exciting because, like I said, I’ve always wanted to do that on the side or if I ever wanted to give up acting, that’s what I wanted to do. It’s kind of fun to live out a little bit of a dream of mine on my actual job now.
Now, what was the audition process like?
Thiessen: It was an interesting audition process. I’ll be totally honest. I went in and read for this before they even cast Tim’s role of Peter. I did great. I was put on a short list, and then months go by and didn’t hear back because they hadn’t cast the role of Peter yet.
Then, they finally cast the role of Peter with Tim, which I was ecstatic about because I was such a huge fan of Tim’s work that I was hoping to get called back again and be able to read with him. They actually had moved on and started looking at some other girls for the role. Funny enough, they were looking at girls younger than I was, which I thought was kind of funny. A month or so goes by, and they have not cast the role of Elizabeth.
I finally got a call again. They said they really wanted to bring me back again and see what the chemistry could be like between Tim and I, and we blew it out of the park. The moment I met him and we read, it just was right. It just fit perfectly, and so I read with him once for a chemistry read, and then I went in and tested for the show with him with a couple other girls. I was told that USA usually takes a few weeks to make decisions, but I was told later that night that I got the role, so I was very excited.
What specifically about the White Collar pilot script drew you to it?
Thiessen: It’s kind of the type of storyline, kind of storytelling that I really, really enjoy. The Catch Me If You Can, The Thomas Crown Affair, those types of movies are always on the top of my list as well as James Bond and things like that. Those are the kinds of movies that I really tend to watch and really see myself. When I read the script, I was like, oh my gosh, this is such a show that I would watch, and I can’t really say that about a lot of the shows that I’ve done in the past in my career.
Then, the more and more I got involved with the show and just watching how it was being cast, I was really excited when they cast Matt. I had seen some of Matt’s work and heard what kind of an up-and-coming, amazing actor he was. Willie, I had known, and I’ve always enjoyed his work. Then when they cast Tim, I was over the moon because I’ve always loved his work and some of the shows that he’s done, and then just the character of Elizabeth, like I had mentioned as well. It was kind of like the first time I read a role where I was like, wow, this is really kind of more me. I could actually be playing someone closer to home for myself, which was kind of a nice change for me.
I realize that you’ve been working a lot with Tim and Matt, obviously, because they’re the leads, but have you gotten to work a lot with Willie and Natalie who just joined the cast?
Thiessen: I haven’t. I got to work with Natalie once or twice, I think, a few weeks ago, which was fun, very briefly, though. Willie, I still have not worked with and I don’t know if we’ll ever see the two of them in the same scene together because their story lines are so separated, but it would be fun because I love Willie, and I’ve know Willie for years. On our off days, we spend a lot of time together. We’re actually quite good friends. It’s just funny how we don’t actually work together on the show.
I have a question, and actually touches a little bit on Fastlane which you mentioned earlier. Now, in Fastlane, you were actually the badge-holding cop, and now on White Collar, you’re the wife of the man with the badge.
You mentioned that you’re a little bit closer to Elizabeth Burke from your own standpoint, but from an acting standpoint, which one of those two roles has actually been more difficult for you?
Thiessen: Definitely Fastlane. Fastlane was much harder for me to do. It was a very new thing for me to do that kind of role where I’m talking a ton, but I will say on the flip side of it, the action part of it that I got to do and the different kind of characters that I got to play inside my character was really, really fun. I can’t say one is more fun than the other, but I will say Fastlane was much more difficult.
I know we don’t have a lot of time, but can you tell us maybe a funny or interesting story that has happened behind the scenes of White Collar?
Thiessen: I can’t even mention one. That’s hard. It’s so hard to mention even one because the guys, Tim and Matt are two goofballs. I can’t even tell you, and Willie, too, but I just don’t get to work with Willie as much. I get to see Willie’s humor off set when we’re just hanging the two of us, but Matt and Tim, it’s always a singing-fest, dancing-fest, a joke-fest when we’re not literally in the scene working. It’s quite enjoyable, it really is. I feel very blessed and very lucky to be working with the people that I’m working with.
My favorite scenes in the first few episodes have been the watch, when you give him the watch.
Thiessen: Yes, I like those, too.
And also when you take away the watch, but that second one, can you explain to me a little bit about that? It seemed a little bit more metaphorical…
Thiessen: The second when I gave him his watch back, you mean?
Thiessen: Yes, it turned out to be such a great scene, and it was such a nice story line to really see the intimacy and the realness between Peter and Elizabeth, which was really nice. I think Elizabeth’s character is always worried about her husband because of what he does for a living. I think she’s used to it, but I don’t think it takes the worry away from her, and I think it was her way of letting Peter know that she needs to know he’s okay. I do it to my husband all the time where I’m shopping for him, and I may buy him things that I think are great, but they’re not my husband, and I think it was her way of letting him know that I was wrong, and I totally took it in a wrong way, and I need you to be you, especially on such an important day. It was a really nice touch. I actually really enjoyed that scene.
Are you a fan of eccentric baby names, or are we going to get closer to something like Jessica and John…
Thiessen: We’re tooling around with a ton of names. We haven’t come up with anything solid yet. We do have some favorites, and I promise you, they’re nothing crazy. We’re very traditional people, me being from California and my husband from Texas. Yes, you’re not going to find any freaky names. I promise!